Anonymous on Twitter: Going behind the curtain

NEW DELHI: Ever since its creation, the internet has mostly remained a place where anyone can present themselves in any form they choose. During my teenage years, revealing your identity online was just not the norm. At that time, most online interactions took place in chat rooms or via instant messaging websites such as Yahoo, Hotmail.

Nicknames like ‘Cool_Dude_1991’, ‘I_Love_Pink_3456’ and ‘Rockstar_Chic’ were considered ‘cool’. Then came Facebook and Flickr, followed by Instagram, Twitter and Google+.

Websites like Facebook and Google+ go to lengths to verify the identity of their users. On the other hand, Twitter lets its users hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

The fact is we live in a world where people have faced arrests and even lost their jobs over statements made on social media. So, we can’t exactly blame these people for trying to protect themselves.

I had the opportunity to interact with 8 people from different walks of life, living in different parts of the country and maybe even oblivious to each others’ ‘real’ existence. They have one thing in common – All run anonymous accounts on Twitter.

Haven’t you ever wondered who is behind the tweets of your favourite anonymous Twitter account? At some point you must have asked – “Who is coming up with this?”

Ask why they decided to stay anonymous and most of them will tell you that it was a ‘spontaneous decision’.

For @UdaasPriest anonymity felt like, “I could scream my views at Dadar railway platform and everyone who hears it will either appreciate it or ignore it but won’t bash me up.”

@Roflindian, on the other hand, believes that being anonymous gave him the freedom to call a spade a spade, without having to worry about how the aggrieved party thought of him on a personal level.

“An anonymous account gives me the freedom to let go of diplomacy and tweet my heart out,” admitted @Bawli_Booch.

However, some are ‘forced’ to hide behind the curtain of anonymity. “Political discussions inevitably turn ugly with a lot of personal comments being thrown around. So, I decided to keep my private life as personal as possible and desist from disclosing any personal information,” says @VagabondBodhi.

Aren’t they afraid of being judged by people who know them in the ‘real’ world? “Absolutely. It is one of the reasons why I do not share my Twitter handle with people I know in person. First they’ll tell you, “Yaar, tere paas faltu time bahut hai,” and then will copy your jokes on Facebook and Whatsapp,” says @YearOfRat.

“If you keep separate online and virtual identities, you will be judged by the people who know you in person, because they will question your different set of views,” believes @UdaasPriest.

“Also, the benefit of being the ‘same person’ everywhere is that it leaves little room for judgment and lesser lies to remember,” he adds.

Tip: If you are planning to take the anonymous road, stay true to yourself!

When asked if censorship laws made them wary? The answer is a unanimous ‘Yes’.

“You must never cross certain barriers in life. Nowadays, judicial retribution for online misdemeanors is swift, effective and painful. You tweet pejorative and derogatory stuff entirely at your own risk,” advises @Roflindian.

“Here’s the thing — according to Section 66A of the Information technology Act 2000 a person can be jailed for upto 3 years for sharing through a computer or communication device anything that is perceived as “grossly offensive” or “of menacing character”. However this great law does not set out the parameters of how to decide on what is “grossly offensive” or “of menacing character”. What this means is that someone with even a little bit of “pull” in the government and having a vested interest can put you in jail for an otherwise innocuous blog post, tweet or Facebook status update,” says @14_yr_old_Etard.

He also adds, “So yes, when over 20 thousand people can read what you tweet, one has to think before hitting ‘send’. But having said that, I don’t hide under a table right after posting an anti-government tweet.”

There are sweet rewards too for these anonymous users. @GabbbarSingh shared a fascinating incident. Over two years ago, he needed some contact details of locals in Mozambique, as his father was going there. He shared the same on Twitter and within half-an-hour, he could get in touch with a local there.

@Bawli_Booch, who is a marketing executive, feels proud of the fact that he has been able to create a ‘brand’. The face or the name of the brand might be artificial, but the content is true to his heart, and the reaction of his followers gives him immense satisfaction, he said.

On the other hand the man who tweets from @KhapPanchayat, a parody account, says, “If not for this account, I would’ve continued following people who make ‘Sonakshi-Sinha’s forehead is biiiiiiig’ jokes. I’ve found a lot of exceptional people to learn from in the past 1.5 years.”

However, his only regret is that Khaps can’t flirt with women! Well, we understand your predicament.

@14_yr_old_Etard believes that Twitter is a great medium to get one’s opinions ‘validated’. “I guess one other way I can have 100+ people agree to my views about Modi’s latest speech would be by running across the street yelling into a megaphone, like a madman trying to get everyone’s attention! Oh wait. Drat! That sounds a lot like Twitter itself!” he said.

On the other hand, @YearOfRat feels that, “After you establish a base with a certain amount of followers, people assume that you are a celeb and somehow connected. They try to get your attention with pointless rants and sometimes abuse.”

Any Twitter user will vouch for the fact that if there are no bounds to getting trolled. These anonymous accounts also have to face the wrath of Twitter’s angry army of trolls.

“Indian crowd is very sensitive, yes, even the Twitter one. So anything written against their favourite actor or politician or even their ideals sets passage for hate mentions,” said @UdaasPriest.

Parody accounts like @KhapPanchayat face a different type of problem. “Some people do tend to think that it’s an actual khap account and ask me to perform various sexual acts with myself.”

Makes me wonder, how often is the credibility of their tweets questioned? “Daily,” says @YearOfRat. “Even if it is a joke. People take twitter too seriously!”

“Before posting a tweet, I carefully search Twitter, and then go through the first 3 pages of a Google search, JUST to make sure it has not been done before. So … I guess if someone EVER questions the credibility of my tweets, I should simply delete my Twitter account, throw my phone, and jump off the top of this building,” said @14_yr_old_Etard. A little too paranoid, don’t you think.

@UdaasPriest’s tip: Do not tweet anything serious on an issue if you lack knowledge about it.

Predictably, most of these people have been approached by different brands too for ‘sponsored tweets’ or to run contests on their behalf. However, they believe that one of the quickest ways to lose credibility is by doing such things.

Juggling ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ lives can be a bit of a handful sometimes. Do they ever think of shutting it down? Many have taken breaks to ‘detox’ but none has ever thought of shutting down their accounts.

“No! Twitter is God. Twitter is religion. We are Twitter extremists,” chants @UdaasPriest. Okay! Okay! We get your point.

Those who suggest anonymity should be forbidden must understand that the ability to explore other identities, to communicate and advice anonymously is not only constructive, but crucial to preserving a free and open internet.

They are loved, abused, bashed and then loved some more. Some of them make you smile with a single tweet, some give great advice and some make you question your beliefs. These cloaked superheroes do make our virtual existence interesting.

What ‘anonymous’ accounts do you follow? Do you maintain your own identity-less account? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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